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Weekend: Small venues are struggling. Ross Noble talks to Metro about why we should care

Surrealist: Dominic Cummings and council-run venues are just a few things on the comic’s mind

ROSS NOBLE should have just finished a two-month tour of the UK. Instead, the Geordie comic is in his adopted city of Melbourne, where he’s been since the Australian leg of his Humournoid tour stopped prematurely thanks to coronavirus.

Now though, fans can get their fix of his surrealist humour with Soho Theatre making six films from his 2016 Brain Dump tour available on demand on its website.

The films, featuring Ross discussing classic car meetings, spiders and Kabuki make-up, will be available until the end of June. As with all of Ross’s sell-out tours, Brain Dump didn’t have a theme. ‘It’s very fashionable to have a theme and for comedians to dredge up a lot of darkness from their past,’ says Ross. ‘It’s come from the Edinburgh Festival. In order to get noticed at Edinburgh, and to chase critical acclaim, it’s become fashionable to have a very structured show with a theme and an arc.

‘I can’t be a***d with that. My mind flits around all over the place. In more recent shows, I like to slip stuff in that people aren’t expecting. I’ll talk about serious issues but in a stupid way — so people think I might be making a point but they can’t be sure. There are a lot of comedians nowadays telling you how clever they are — but the fact you’re a good stand-up, probably means you’re not an idiot. You don’t have to tell the audience.’

Ross is supporting the Soho Theatre as it was among the first major London venues he performed at 20 years ago when he was embarking on his career. ‘It’s one of the most important comedy venues in Britain. It’s the first rung on the ladder of the West End. Like all theatres they’re closed, so downloading these films helps them stay afloat.’

Ross will be donating half the money raised from the films to Acting For Others — an organisation that helps people in the arts who need support.

‘A lot of people have the idea that performers are used to being out of work but a lot of us aren’t,’ he says. ‘If you’re in a West End musical, you’ll have a long contract. People are finding out they don’t have other skills to get another job.’ Ross is concerned about the future of regional theatres — with many already announcing that the lockdown has left them in financial jeopardy.

‘I can’t see this government bailing out theatres. My biggest worry is about council-run venues. They might get sold off to big theatre chains, but the ones that aren’t in listed buildings, the ones in more modern buildings, will be sold and turned into flats.

‘There are towns I go to on tour and the theatre is one of the big draws for that town. If the theatre shuts and you’re not getting 2,000 people coming into town to see a show it will have an effect on the restaurants and surrounding buildings.’

Lockdown is easing in Australia, but he’s been keeping busy during the weeks of being confined to base, holding a Lockdown Lounge show on Instagram every Saturday morning at 11am UK time. ‘It’s like Noel’s House Party but set in the apocalypse. I don’t have a Mr Blobby. I have a bottle of washing up liquid with Sinead O’Connor’s face stuck on it.’

He’s also discovered advantages to doing a show online rather than on TV. ‘We had a woman on the other day. She did a colonic irrigation. She came on, her full face was on the camera, but she looked a bit distracted. She turned the camera round so it was looking at the tube. I played a sound effect of a drum roll and when she evacuated herself I hit a cymbal crash. You wouldn’t get that on the telly!’

Ross is looking forward to coming back to the UK and hopes that by January there is a rescheduled Humournoid tour. He jokes: ‘If it doesn’t, I’ll just tell everyone I won’t be able to feed my children and that reasonable people will understand that I’m thinking about my kids when I open up the theatres and allow everyone in.’ He adds, in reference to Dominic Cummings: ‘Before that, I’ll do a small show in Barnard Castle just to test if I’m funny, and that I’m just doing it for my kids. I’ll just be acting on my instincts to put on a show, whether or not it affects other people.’

Ross’s Brain Dump films are available until the end of June; at sohotheatreondemand.com; Instagram @mrrossnoble